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White House to GOP: Full Steam Ahead on Healthcare Bill or Nothing

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WASHINGTON — After a day of dealmaking and wrangling with conservative and moderate caucuses that both have issues with the Republicans’ healthcare bill, the White House signaled to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that President Trump wants a vote Friday morning regardless of whether GOP whips have secured the votes.

The vote on the American Health Care Act was supposed to take place today, the 7th anniversary of former President Obama signing the Affordable Care Act into law. A new Congressional Budget Office report was released scoring the amendments made to the bill in order to draw in more votes — and the numbers were worse than the original, saving $186 billion less than the 10-year $337 billion deficit reduction projected in the initial bill. The projections for growth in the number of uninsured remained about the same, an additional 24 million people by in 2026.

As the day wore on, that expected evening vote was called off and instead the GOP caucus fought it out behind closed doors.

When House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) emerged, he was grim yet determined.

“For seven and a half years, we have been promising the American people that we will repeal and replace this broken law because it’s collapsing and it’s failing families — and tomorrow we’re proceeding,” Ryan told a phalanx of reporters, walking away without responding to questions of whether he had the votes locked down.

In that meeting, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney delivered an ultimatum from the administration to his former House colleagues: vote Friday on the healthcare replacement, or live with Obamacare as the law of the land. Also in the caucus meeting to affirm the message were White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior counselor Kellyanne Conway.

Observers described the scene in the caucus meeting after the White House team left like a pep rally, with proponents of the healthcare bill trying to energize the skeptical.

Then came a couple of well-timed under-the-bus leaks from the administration: the New York Times reported Trump regrets following the Ryan plan to do Obamacare repeal and replace before tax reform, and CNN cited a senior administration official as saying the White House blames Ryan for not better managing the healthcare bill process.

Trump met separately today with the House Freedom Caucus and the centrist Republicans who comprise the Tuesday Group.

“Members of the House Freedom Caucus thanked the president for engaging with them throughout the negotiations,” the White House said in a readout of the meeting. “The president thanked the group for their willingness to work closely with the White House and their colleagues in Congress to craft the strongest possible bill. The group agreed that their ultimate goal is to implement a system that will drive down costs and increase access to healthcare for millions of Americans. This meeting was a positive step toward that goal.”

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), who predicted a “very long night” ahead of the vote, told Fox that he went into the meeting a “no” vote and emerged the same.

“The reality is that this is an artificial deadline. The reason we wanted to do it today was symbolic, which was good symbolism. But there’s no need for this bill to come together,” Labrador said. “…Nobody likes this bill. They’re just voting for it because their leadership is asking them to do it. Can we get to a bill that the American people like?”

“The majority of Americans don’t like the bill. The majority of Republicans in our districts don’t like this bill.”

Despite the intense pressure and warnings that re-election chances would be grim for lawmakers who didn’t vote for the bill backed by Trump, Freshman Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said in a late-night statement that he couldn’t vote for the bill.

“I appreciate House Leadership’s efforts to work through the concerns I have flagged, and I have great respect for the way President Trump and his team have negotiated with members of Congress. The White House has been fully engaged and worked towards a resolution that is consistent with the promises we have made to our constituents,” Biggs said. “…In short, the legislation wrongfully perpetuates national control over healthcare, and I will not support a piece of legislation that fails to meet the expectations of my district.”

“I continue to be involved in negotiations on this bill to ensure that the voices of my district are heard throughout this process, but I cannot support anything less than a clean repeal of Obamacare.”

As of 11 p.m., according to The Hill’s whip count, 34 GOP House members plan to vote “no” while eight are leaning that way and 31 were undecided.

With one Democrat planning not to cast a vote, Republicans can lose no more than 22 members of their caucus.